The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) has faulted the Huduma Namba Bill, 2021, saying there is no sufficient time for the agency to implement the law before the August 9 General Election.
The commission says the enactment of the law will compel to change its standard operating procedures in voter registration, verification, register update, deduplication and its technology platforms like Kiems and Candidates Registration Management System (CRMS).
It will then have to update the register of voters and various voter registration statutory forms by inserting a field for the Huduma number/Huduma card to replace the document used in registering as a voter or devise a way of incorporating the Huduma number in the electronic register (Kiems voter identification component) and the hardcopy register of voters.
In a memorandum detailing its views on the controversial Bill, the agency says Kenyans must be given adequate time to acquire the Huduma Namba so as not to be disenfranchised for the August poll besides safeguarding the political rights to vote and stand for elections.
“The Bill creates confusion on when the use of national identity cards (IDs) or valid passport will be replaced with Huduma card as the only means of official identification,” the commission says in its memorandum which was presented to the committee on Justice and Legal Affairs of the National Assembly.
The Bill, introduced in the National Assembly last December, seeks to, among other things, consolidate the law on civil registration and legal identity management, establish a digital national population database to be the primary source of foundational data for a resident individual and provide mechanism for registration of births, deaths and recognition of vital events of a resident individual.
The laws consolidated in the Bill include the Births and Deaths Registration Act, the Registration of Persons Act, the Kenya Citizens and Foreign Nationals Management Service Act, 2011 (Service Act), the Marriage Act 2014, the Children Act, 2001, the Traffic Act; and the Tax Procedures Act 2015. Further, the Bill proposes amendments to the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act 2011.
It will, if enacted, also facilitate the assigning of the Huduma Namba and issuance of legal identity documents and promote integrity, confidentiality and security of personal data under the NIIMS database.
Social security number
Huduma Namba is modelled on the US social security number. The idea is to have every citizen obtain a unique identifier number that would be required when seeking government services.
During the rollout of Huduma Namba, PS Karanja Kibicho had assured that the number will replace the many cards that they carry to identify themselves as they seek services.
However, the Bill has not integrated the many other identification documents as had been promised.
The Bill proposes that the Commission may use National Integrated Identity Management System (NIIMS) database to compile, maintain, revise and update the Register of Voters.
It also gives the Cabinet Secretary the discretion to determine when IDs will cease to be official document for national identification through a notice in the Kenya Gazette notice.
However the Bill is not explicit on when the use of IDs will be faced out.
“Considering that no definite timeline is given for terminating the use of IDs, there is likelihood of chaos and confusion among the electorate who have and continue to register as voters ahead of the 2022 general elections with their IDs and Passports,” the commission says.
The agency admits that NIIMS may facilitate faster and more reliable removal of dead voters from the register since the Bill makes it mandatory for deaths to be reported to a NIIMS officer and provides for offences for non-reporting.
Mr Chebukati regrets that the proposed law does not directly speak to facilitating the Commission and access to such database is not absolute.
The commission notes that it has not been granted any powers in the Bill to access or cause to be accessed NIIMS data for validation and Audit of the Register of voters, and removal of dead voters. It adds that the Bill also does not include a mandatory provision for the Commission to be provided with data periodically from the database or any facilitate clause on servicing the commission on need basis.
Independence of commission
Mr Chebukati says independence of the commission will be weakened since it will be rely on data from another body in compiling or updating the Register of voters.
“The proposed use of NIIMS data by the Commission will require redesigning and modifying technology to adapt to the new methods and integrating the Commission’s Register Functions with Huduma, which process is not attainable at this time,” said the chairman.
He further argues that by obligating the commission to use NIIMS to maintain and update the register of voters is tantamount to a duplication of effort and resources where the traditional approach on registration of voters is equally maintained by the Commission.
Section 9 of the Bill details the primacy of the NIIMS Database. The section mandates the commission to first engage NIIMS to verify foundational data as the first step toward generating the Register of Voters. However, Section 4 and Regulation 13A of the Elections (Registration of Voters) Regulations require an eligible voter to provide an identification documents for purposes of registration and generation of a Register of voters.
Mr Chebukati argues the requirement in Section 9 of the Bill means that the identification document would be secondary data as reliance is on data generated from another source adding that accuracy of the data cannot be guaranteed?
He also questions how the commission will we effect change of particulars especially in cases where a voter wants to use passport as opposed to ID or vice versa.
The commission wants the question of where responsibility will lie should there be errors in the use of data collected in Huduma is utilized for electoral purposes.
Responsibility for errors
It also wants the Bill to clarify the place of Kenya Integrated Election Management System (Kiems) in voter registration under a Huduma regime, the risk of invalidation of the Register of voters or litigations that can derail electoral timelines with regard to register preparation, registration of candidates for election and voter identification during polling.
Unlike the National Registration Bureau (NRB) databank, NIIMS data has both adults and minors. Mr Chebukati says that without an audit independent of the NIIMS, the reliability of the NIIMS database in terms of its accuracy, completeness and currency cannot be guaranteed.
“If the Commission has to use NIIMS database to undertake deduplication or Audit the Register of voters, clear policies must be in place on how to mitigate this risk,” he said.